Text: APC Photo: APC
Bujanovac, Presevo, Vranje, Pirot, 30 April 2019 – Employees of the Asylum Protection Center (APC/CZA) make regular visits to the camps in Vranje, Bujanovac, Pirot and open locations in Presevo. Here, APC conducted informal interviews with many refugees between January and April 2019. In these interviews, APC was able to gain information about illegal push-backs conducted by the Serbian police and gendarmerie. APC’s refugee informants described their being forced back into Macedonia, the territory from which they arrived in Serbia, and the maltreatment and hardships they endured as a result from such a procedure.
H.K.M. (25, Iraq), his brother H.K. (35) his wife A.A.M. (28) and their three children, all of whom from Iraq, arrived in Serbia at the end of March 2019 from Macedonia. The APC team first came into contact with them at the beginning of April in Bujanovac. H.K.M. told the team that they managed to enter Serbia after their third attempt, as the Serbian police illegally returned them back across the border two times. Both times they were caught by the police near the border and were told to return to Macedonia.
The next case on which the team gathered information is about the push back of two refugees from Afghanistan: A.S. (35) ad S.M. (19). Successfully making it to Serbia on February 18th, A.C. and S.M. told APC that the Serbian police returned them to Macedonia when they attempted to cross the border earlier that February. When they succeeded in crossing the border without a push back, they were caught gain by the Serbian police near Miratovac. The police registered them and sent them to Bujanovac camp.
APC heard similar quotes from I.J.M. (20) and A.H. (19), both from Pakistan. They were illegally sent to Macedonia twice by the Serbian police before they were able to cross the border and come to Belgrade. From Belgrade, they were sent to Vranje by the police, where our employees met and spoke with them in January 2019.
According to Z.D. (27), an Afghan arriving in Serbia via Bulgaria, and I.J.M. (21), a Pakistani coming to Serbia through Macedonia, there was an incident in Vranje that resulted in a collective deportation of six Afghan refugees on January 31st. These refugees were approached by the camp manager and police and asked whether they intended to seek asylum in Serbia. They responded that their intention was to continue their path towards the European Union. They next morning (January 31, 2019 around 6am) the police entered the room where this group of Afghans slept and took six people from the group. The refugees were not told why or where they were being taken, and according to Z.D. and I.J.M., the camp was surrounded by police and there was no possibility of escape. All 6 refugees were put into police vehicles and taken away. When they were released they found themselves in the mountains, and when they got back in touch with their friends in Vranje, they revealed that they were taken to Bulgaria.
APC recorded a total of 75 migrants that the Serbian police illegally pushed back into Macedonia from January to April of this year. The good news is that this number is declining. In 2017, the number of illegal push backs was estimated to be around 450.
Examples of refugees who return voluntarily to Greece through Macedonia
Through APC’s fieldwork in refugee camps across Serbia during the first quarter of 2019, it was revealed that approximately 50 refugees, mostly Iranian, voluntarily decided to return to Greece through Macedonia. According to the refugees with whom we spoke, the most common reason for returning to Greece is the lack of money, that is, refugees go to Greece to work and raise money, enabling them to continue their journey to the European Union. The second reason why these refugees are voluntarily returning to Greece is to begin the asylum procedure in Greece, a member of the European Union, and win refugee status. Further, there is the possibility that some refugees may be able to illegally obtain a Greek ID card from smugglers and continue their journey to other EU countries.
APC/CZA employees in Preševo were able to speak to Indian refugees who decided to return to Greece by ways of Macedonia. M.A. (25) and V.C. (28) arrived in Serbia by plane in early February. After three days of staying in a hostel, they tried to enter Croatia near the Sid border. The migrants made it about 7 kilometers deep into Croatia before the country’s border patrol spotted them. Thankfully, the police did not use force on this occasion, rather they put the migrants in a car, drove them to the border, and ordered them to return to Serbia. After this unsuccessful attempt, they went to Greece through Macedonia in hopes of earning money before their next journey.
H.V. (24, Algeria), entered Serbia from Macedonia in late December 2018. He quickly moved to Bosnia, where he lived for four months, during which he was attempting to enter Croatia. When this crossing continued to prove unsuccessful, he returned to Presevo on April 20 with the intention of continuing his journey to Greece through Macedonia.
M.F. (30, Palestine) entered Serbia via Macedonia in early 2018 and stayed in the Presevo camp. He later spent a year in Bosnia (from April 2018 to early April 2019). After several unsuccessful attempts to cross Bosnia’s border with Croatia, he returned to Presevo. Here, the APC team met him and learned of his plan to go to Greece through Macedonia.
A.N. (44, Iran) stayed in the Sid camp from April to October 2018, before going to Bosnia. He spent 5 months in Bosnia trying to cross the Croatian border. When his money ran out, he decided to return to Serbia in mid-March and continue to Greece where he could be reunited with his family. The APC team met him at the railway station in Presevo where he was waiting for the train. APC informed him that he would be unable to enter Greece by train due to his lack of documents. He then decided to reach Greece through Macedonia.
N.A. (17, Syria) entered Serbia in December 2018 through Kosovo. Her parents began the asylum procedure in Greece but encouraged her to continue ahead to Europe. She began her journey accompanied only by her 43-year-old friend. After a short stay in the Bujanovac camp, her companion decided to continue the journey alone, leaving N.A. completely on her own. As a result, N.A. decided to return to Greece and reunite with her parents. She moved back to Greece in early March 2019.